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What to Expect at Security When Flying El Al

The national carrier of Israel, El Al, and other Israeli carriers are known for its stringent security. Having had experienced it a few weeks earlier on my flight from New York to Tel Aviv, I was fairly confident I knew what was coming.

I thought that perhaps security was so strict because of the flight route: New York’s JFK to Tel Aviv, but I soon came to learn it was the same at every airport that El Al, or any other Israeli carrier, flies.

This is my personal experience and may not match your own. I hope you are treated well.

Tips for security when flying El Al Israel Airline or any Israeli Airline

Look, I’ll be frank: most of these are pretty common sense when flying but it’s always a good reminder.

Pack light

In fact, if you can check all your luggage in, I would highly recommend it, particularly when departing Israel.

Security at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) is intense. I found that by having everything in a small backpack meant I could breeze through security no problems.

Have your all your electronics in one bag, including chargers. They will ask you to separate these during the security screening.

Leave your suitcase unlocked

You will see signs around the terminal in Tel Aviv, and often near the bag drop at their international check-in desks. I’ve read that they will break the lock to open bags as – depending on the level of your ‘security threat’ – your luggage will get hand searched.

Be early

Even when I arrived four hours before one of my flights, I found that by the time I went through pre-security, check-in and regular security, the time adds up quickly.

While Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport is not a big airport, there is enough to do to pass an hour-or-two.
I recommend the lounges (for those flying in a premium cabin or status with select airlines) and those with a Priority Pass can unwind in the Dan Lounge (there are two locations inside the airport – one on Concourse B and another on Concourse C). Priority Pass members can also redeem their lounge access for ILS100 off their bill at Schmoozy Bar. So it’s worth coming early to experience!

For those without lounge access or a Priority Pass card, there is plenty of seating around the airport. As soon as you clear immigrations there’s a large (usually busy) area in the very heart of the airport. There’s also a small but tasteful selection of restaurants and plenty of seating in the food court.

Expect to be questioned… thoroughly

It might be uncomfortable if you aren’t a regular flyer to countries that have such intense security, but it’s there job.

Israel does have a racial profiling issue, so if you are not Jewish or Israeli expect to be more thoroughly questioned. Same goes if you are travelling solo.

I’d recommend you copies of your return ticket, accommodation, host or families details close by.

I loved Indonesia but Israeli security may have a few questions about your trip.

If you have stamps from countries that Israel doesn’t have a relationship with don’t stress

I was quite lucky that I had a new passport so didn’t have to go through the rigmarole associated with stamp-based scrutiny, but when travelling from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv I was asked if I had travelled to a series of countries (including Malaysia and Indonesia) who Israel don’t recognise Israel or have strained relationships.

Don’t stress. They’ll simply want to know when you went, how long you stayed, and why you went.

Israel isn’t recognised or has no diplomatic relationship with 32 countries, these include:

  • Members of the Arab League: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudia Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. (They may question you about Egypt and Jordan but they do have cordial ties with both countries).
  • Members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation: (the aforementioned plus) Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Mali, Niger, Pakistan.
  • Bhutan
  • Cuba
  • North Korea

Do not remove the sticker they place on or in your passport while at the airport or while you are in Israel

I cannot stress this enough. Without those stickers, you cannot fly. The visa (the printed piece of paper that you get when entering and exiting) are not so important, but the stickers are. If you do remove them, you will be questioned.

These stickers denote your ‘threat’ level as determined by security. The first number, ranging from 1 to 6, indicates your perceived threat level to whomever else you’re passed along to.

Please only remove them when you leave the country.

If you are going to or have been to Palestinian territory

Don’t stress but be honest. Israeli’s know its natural for foreigners to be interested in Palestine. As relations aren’t too inflammatory at the moment I found this series of questioning to be non-problematic.

I did a tour of Hebron and another of the Gaza Strip border region. I was asked what I saw but the Israeli’s who asked seemed more curious than questioning why I went.

They did ask me if I knew anyone there – as part of the tour was having lunch in a locals home – and how I found out about the tours to the areas, but it didn’t go past that.

Don’t stress

It is the job of the security personnel to conduct thorough security checks. No Israeli carrier or airport has had a major security issue since 1973. After you’ve experienced their security and interrogation techniques you’ll understand why.

Israeli security try to psychologically evaluate passengers through their voice, mood, and body language. Asking repeated questions make people think their first answer was wrong and change their answer, which is an effective way to catch people lying.

Remember: if you have nothing to hide and tell the truth you will have no problems.

The backstory to my security experience flying El Al from Amsterdam

After missing my connecting flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona (and then another connecting flight from Barcelona to Tel Aviv) I made the decision to spend the day in Amsterdam and catch the direct El Al flight.
I could have flown KLM or Transavia (KLM’s low-cost carrier subsidiary) but I had a ton of issues with the night before when trying to book my ticket with KLM and I was simply not in the mood for more.

It may have been 10.30am but I chose the flight that left 11-hours later thinking I’d be able to check my bags and go relax in the lounge. I very quickly learned I wouldn’t be able to check my bags until 2-hours before the flight (even though the website says 3-hours). D’oh!

By the time came for boarding to commence, I was hanging out for a shower in the El Al affiliate lounge. This is my security experience flying El Al.

My security experience flying El Al from Amsterdam

There was a huge queue of people waiting to check-in. Thankfully, as a Business Class passenger, I was able to go through the priority line.

A guy in a dark suit took my passport and took me over to his lectern. He was great. When we got to the question about where I’d travelled (“…And before Israel? And before Prague?…“) I had begun to explain the complicated route I had taken. He smiled and told me to slow down. We cracked a few jokes and things seemed to be going well.

He went to the corner of the room, in a similar fashion to how they did at New York’s JFK airport when I flew El Al for the first time. I could see him going through the passenger list hanging on the pinboard. My name wasn’t there.

When he came back I explained that I had booked the ticket less than 12-hours ago and showed him the receipt and e-Ticket I had received by email.

A female collegue came over and checked the e-Ticket and receipt and both of them seemed satisfied. He left and went back to mark the list.

After the extensive research I had done following my somewhat jarring experience with Israeli security in JFK, I knew what was happening, and this guy seemed great.

He – a manager – gave me my passport back and I was seconds away from being allowed to complete bag drop when the female colleague waved down a young trainee over. The female security inspector explained to the trainee, in Hebrew, what was going on and then turned to me.

This is our trainee. Would you mind if she practices a security check with you?

The jovial male manager and the speed of this security check had left me feeling good – also, I was probably delirious from lack of sleep – so being a good traveller I said yes.

If you don’t mind, I will instruct her in Hebrew,” the security inspector said.

I nodded. A barrage of Hebrew flowed from her with words like ‘terrorist’ being some of the few I understood.

Giving the trainee my passport the questions began. Simple ones about my name, my route, how did I get to Amsterdam, and why I was going to Israel.
After each ’round’ of questions, the instructor talked to her. Then, after about the third round of questions, the instructor walked away to the back corner. The trainee kept firing questions at me.

Israeli security psychologically evaluate passengers through their voice, mood, and body language. Asking repeated questions make people think their first answer was wrong and change their answer, which is an effective way to catch people lying.

I thought the trainee would quiz me for 5-minutes and I’d be on my merry way to the Aspire Lounge (No. 41) – one of the a Priority Pass lounges at Amsterdam Schiphol, if you don’t hold status or a premium ticket – for a shower and something to eat. She had other ideas.

Do you have photos of the text messages you exchanged with your friend about coming to Amsterdam?” (I didn’t as they were all on social media and I didn’t have Internet connection.)

Do you have any photos of you and your friend on your trip?” (I’d been trying to have a technology free trip so, of course, my friend had the one selfie we took together so the trainee was subjected to photos of me and my friends cat, my friend and her fiance sitting on the couch, and a few other miscellaneous snaps.)

Where did you say? How did you get to Amsterdam? What is your flight plants? Do you know anyone in Israel? But you’ve been to Israel before, you must know someone!” The list went on and on.

I know that it was ‘likely’ a trainee legitimately being trained in interrogation but after 30-minutes of talking and trying to be casual I was getting annoyed.

Finally, I was allowed to check my bags into the flight and I made my way to the lounge for the best damn shower I’ve had in a while.

I had a similar facial expression as my friend’s cat, Luna,
by the time I was done with security in Amsterdam.

That’s it, right? Enroute to Tel Aviv

I hadn’t been watching the clock in the Aspire Lounge (No. 41) and had taken my sweet time relishing my second shower of the day, but was bang on time to get to the departure gate.

There you are!

The trainee had spotted me walking towards the gate.

You need to go down those stairs for more security.

I resisted the temptation to audibly groan out loud.

Downstairs two guys took my cabin bags and put them on metal desks. I was told to sit behind felt partition walls. With nothing to do but flip through some Dutch or Hebrew magazines, I sat trying to connect to the WiFi for 15-minutes.

I could hear them unpacking my bag onto the metal tables. I knew they were swabbing them for explosives and other illegal things.

After I was given the all clear, I then had to repack all my bags because… well, despite their profession for unpacking bags, they hadn’t yet mastered the skills for packing them.

The view from the pre-boarding security room at JFK had been much more fancy.

When I had finally been passed and was allowed to board, with one last ‘goodbye’ from the trainee, I heard the female security officer scolding two girls for being late to the flight (the final call sign was on) and telling them to be more mature.

What bugged me was that neither of them, nor the Israeli passport holder who I had followed to the gate from the lounge, had had their bags searched.

I looked at the sticker on my passport denoting my threat level.

I got a 5.

Guess that last minute ticket was a bit suss after all!

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